If the pandemic has proven anything, it’s that working in an office every day is no longer necessary, at least for tech companies. According to an Owl Labs study this year, 16 percent of companies globally are fully remote, and 62 percent of workers aged 22 to 65 reported working remotely at least occasionally.
Even company executives can work from anywhere, and some of them are choosing to leave big cities to live in the Triangle.
This is the case for New York City-headquartered fintech CommonBond. CommonBond’s CEO David Klein, President Robb Granado and COO Pete Wylie all independently moved to Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh, respectively, over the past few years. Klein and Wylie made their moves after the pandemic began.
Pre-pandemic, at least 95 percent of CommonBond’s staff was based in New York. But now less than half of the workforce lives in New York. This is partly because so many relocated away from New York and its high cost of living, but also because CommonBond’s virtual-first mentality has allowed it to tap into talent pools across the country.
Granado was the first to make the move to the Triangle in 2018 for his family, and he regularly commuted to work in New York during the week. When Covid hit, commuting was no longer necessary. Six months into the pandemic, Klein and his wife began exploring the idea of traveling to different cities while they worked remotely.
“We said, ‘Hey, look, we’ve always wanted to live in a few different cities,’” Klein said. “But we were anchored to New York because of CommonBond and because of our children’s child-care situation, but now both of those things were completely upended.”
This was suddenly the chance to be able to live in the cities they always wanted to experience.
“We said, why don’t we turn lemons into lemonade? Why don’t we go to a few different cities?” Klein said.
The first three cities were planned, in order, to be Philadelphia, Durham and Los Angeles. After Philadelphia, the Kleins wanted to try out Durham for four months because they had friends there, and then head west.
But upon arriving in August 2020, they never ended up leaving. Klein said they couldn’t part ways with Durham as Covid cases were surging in California and they finally bought a house as a family because of the Triangle’s more affordable home market.
They were putting down roots and enjoying the relatively easy living that accompanies life in the Triangle compared to the hustle and bustle of New York.
Once both were in the area, Klein and Granado began having regular outdoor lunches at a halfway point between Durham and Chapel Hill. And when Wylie followed them with his own move to Raleigh to be closer to family in January 2021, the meetings grew. Now CommonBond occasionally rents out a coworking space at Venture X Durham for half-days.
Klein says that what he does in North Carolina, he could be doing in New York or anywhere. The same is true for his employees. The only unofficial rule for the company is to be working East Coast hours so everyone is reachable for collaboration at the same time. He still heads to New York occasionally to meet up with those employees in person, but the entire workforce dynamic has shifted at CommonBond, reflecting a larger trend across the country.
Altogether, the startup has evolved significantly since its origin. At the start, Klein created CommonBond after his own struggle to pay for business school with student loans.
“The market was broken,” Klein said. “I was paying interest rates that were unnecessarily high. I was going through a process that was unnecessarily complex.”
While initially CommonBond only focused on the student loan space, CommonBond’s fintech lending capabilities now primarily extend to the solar category.
“We’ve basically leveraged all of this financial technology we built in one context,” Klein said, “and we’ve been able to apply it in another—solar—and enable homeowners to reduce the cost of their monthly electricity bill and to reduce their carbon footprint.”
Klein said CommonBond is now looking to expand into solar-adjacent areas, like “green” home improvement or electric vehicle financing.
While the trend toward moving to the Triangle has clearly taken CommonBond’s executive team by storm, Klein does not think there are enough benefits right now to moving CommonBond’s official headquarters.
“There doesn’t seem to be a reason large enough, just yet anyway, to go through the rigmarole of changing headquarters locations, regulatory filings,” Klein said. “There’s a real cost even just in time and focus associated with making a change like that.”
Klein’s still looking to get more plugged into the Triangle tech ecosystem the way he did with New York’s, but the pre-Covid era conferences and networking events haven’t returned to similar levels, he said.
When he looks ahead to CommonBond’s future, he sees a promising expansion into home improvement, enabling homeowners to “green” their homes with energy-efficient windows and HVAC systems, as well as to car owners to access electric vehicles and save money—and the environment. That would enable CommonBond to capitalize on the trend toward ESG (environmental, social and governance) investing and interest.
“I just think we’re uniquely placed to credibly be the player that becomes the preeminent ESG lender in the US,” Klein said.